Frozen food is integral to life in many parts of the world. It is steadily moving from its unfresh image to find a place in household freezers. With the convenience and freshness they have come to offer with advanced technology, frozen products are also making waves in India. Many matar paneer cravings are satisfied by grabbing a bagful of frozen peas from the freezer to whip up the delicacy. Starters like chicken nuggets, French fries, and cheese balls are prepared in minutes. Meal preparations no more worry dinner hosts as they can choose from a host of frozen dishes like lasagne, pizza, and more to feed their guests. Cooking food has never been simpler!
The history of frozen foods is an interesting one. In the late 1920s, Clarence Birdseye noticed that when freshly caught fish in the Arctic was left on ice and exposed to icy wind and extremely low temperatures, it froze at once. When this fish was thawed and consumed, it exhibited the same fresh quality. This led to the origin of the quick-freezing method and the first line of frozen foods was introduced by Birdseye on March 6, 1930. Later, in the 1940s, there was a shortage of canned foods due to the limited tin supply. It was during this time that the Americans first tasted frozen food.
Today, the frozen food industry is expanding at a fast rate. It is projected to grow from USD 256.46 Billion in 2021 to USD 385.04 Billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 5.98% from 2021-2028. As more and more women go out to work and the lifestyle of the population gets increasingly hectic, people opt more for cold cuts and ready-to-eat foods.
Trends shaping the frozen food industry
Online purchases make a big contribution to the frozen food industry. The sheer variety of options consumers get over mobile applications makes life easier for the working population. Commenting on such trends, Raghav Gupta, director, Kanchan Metals, said, "Several product categories are inviting attention from our customers. These include gyozas, momos, potato snacks, filled dough products, Batter coated products, and traditional Indian food products like samosas and parathas."
Rajesh R Burande, head – operations at Aakanksha Technologies, believes that health trends are growing. He remarked, "People are getting attracted to healthy and preservative-free food. Attracting customers by giving a catchy name to the food products and making the customer realize the product's health benefits and the impact of the food on their lifestyle is also a trend. This is generally done through one-to-one interaction with the customer."
Sirjan Singh Kochhar, business manager, FPT, pointed out some more trends, "Consumers are becoming more adventurous with their food choices and are looking for new and exotic flavors. With busy lifestyles and increasing workloads, consumers are looking for quick and easy meal solutions. Frozen foods offer convenience as they can be prepared quickly and easily."
Some consumers believe frozen foods are not fresh and have low nutritional quality. Raghav Gupta was quick to debunk this myth, "Frozen Food is fresh food that is frozen to give it shelf life. There is nothing un-fresh about it."
Sirjan Singh Kochhar also expressed his disagreement with the misconception, "Most frozen food products are flash-frozen at the peak of freshness, which can help retain their flavor, texture, and nutritional content. When handled and stored properly, frozen foods can be just as fresh and nutritious as fresh food. It is important to read labels, follow storage instructions, and choose products with minimal additives and preservatives."
Rajesh R Burande said that the perception of frozen foods being not fresh was more prevalent earlier. He said, "Things are changing, especially since the last decade. People now understand that frozen food is next to fresh food as far as quality and hygiene are concerned. They know it is chemical-free and preservative-free and is healthy. These facts build people's confidence in frozen foods." Products like frozen green peas and sweet corn are good examples of popular frozen foods in the Indian market.
Food equipment manufacturers are working towards ensuring that the food industry has adequate equipment to manufacture and preserve frozen foods. Talking about Kanchan Metals' contribution in this domain, Raghav Gupta said, "We have been focusing on this sector for several years now and can proudly say that we have grown our footprint of installations in this segment steadily over the years. We offer complete solutions to those looking to make popular frozen food products ranging from gyozas to parathas. We have also manufactured several useful types of equipment for this industry, like continuous cookers, fryers, blanchers, hydro chillers, spiral conveyors, and more."
Sirjan Singh Kochhar acknowledged the frozen food industry's efforts to innovate and develop new technologies to improve the quality, safety, and convenience of frozen food products. He touched upon some of the latest advancements, "Freezing technology uses liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide to freeze food products and smart secondary packaging technology rapidly uses sensors and other devices to monitor the quality of frozen food products during storage and transportation. Also, automated sorting technology uses advanced robotics and artificial intelligence to sort frozen food products quickly and efficiently. This technology helps to reduce labor costs and increase productivity."
Rajesh R Burande proudly shared Aakanksha Technologies' work in frozen technology, "We, along with PIGO ITALY, offer frozen technology for vegetables as well as fruits through IQF (Individual Quick Freezing) and for RTE (Ready to Eat) snacks through spiral freezer which helps to freeze the crust (surface) of the product immediately. This leads to a zero-dehydration product which helps to keep the juiciness of the product near to natural."
Choosing the right equipment
To develop appropriate equipment according to the customer's needs, manufacturers must be careful in listening to the requirements, such as the type of food, its characteristics, the impact of processing on it, and various other factors. Raghav Gupta said, "We do a lot of prototype exercises with our clients either in our lab or their R&D center to develop the solution on a small scale first before scaling up for commercial production. This helps remove chances of error."
According to Rajesh R Burande, customers should choose the right technology that properly satisfies their product requirements. At the same time, it should also be user-friendly and energy efficient.
Talking about how the company helps customers, he said, "We sit down with our customers to discuss their needs and goals and suggest to them what will be the best for their business. We try to understand their requirements and offer the most suitable solution to their requirements. In spiral freezers, our solutions are often tailored to adjust the product needs to meet our customer's requirements. This gives our customer clarity and transparency."
Spreading awareness at Inter FoodTech
Rajesh R Burande is eager to participate in Inter FoodTech and excitedly said, "We will try to understand the customers' requirements and would like to have their feedback about our systems. At the event, we want to create awareness of our products, the freezing and freeze-drying technology that we, Aakanksha Technologies, offer with PIGO ITALY and its advantages."
Mukhtar Pathan, director-Sales, VA Exhibitions, the organizers of Snack & BakeTec, Inter FoodTech & Pac MechEx, said, "Inter FoodTech is the premier technology supplier fair for food and beverage, snacks, bakery, and confectionery processing and packaging and will bring together the who's who of the food industry under one roof. Over 300 Indian and international exhibitors will showcase the latest technological developments addressing the processing and packaging demands of the food processing industry – the sunrise sector of the Indian economy. We invite everyone to visit the much-awaited event from June 07 to 09, 2023, at the Bombay Exhibition Center, Mumbai."